Right-Wing Dark Money Is Coming for Reproductive Rights in Your State

The current threat facing the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights — which is widely expected to be overturned by right-wing appointees to the Supreme Court this month — comes in the context of years of counter-majoritarian efforts by dark money groups to strike down the widely popular Roe The precedent will be followed by the blocking of abortion rights in the States.

In this context, GOP Supreme Court appointee Samuel Alito’s effort to dress up his recently leaked draft decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson deceitful in his pro-democracy case. Alito falsely described the case on page two of his draft decision RoeAs striking down all state abortion laws, despite the fact Roe The law allowed states to impose restrictions on abortion in the last two months of pregnancy, while outlawing the total criminalization. Alito doubled down several pages later, declaring “It is time to … return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” What Alito failed to mention is that the Supreme Court on which he sits has been captured by right-wing forces seeking to entrench minority rule over the rule of law — and that they are replicating this process at the state level.

This agenda has been in the works for decades. Leonard Leo is the Federalist Society fundraiser and far-right lawyer at the heart of this story. right-wing capture of the Supreme CourtThat opened the way to the likely fall of Roe.

As one of Leo’s former public relations staffers described it, “He figured out twenty years ago that conservatives had lost the culture war. Abortion, gay rights, contraception — conservatives didn’t have a chance if public opinion prevailed. So they needed to stack the courts.” Leo played a key role in Alito’s elevation to the Court 15 years ago and then became former President Donald Trump’s “judge whisperer,” hand-picking Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch for Trump’s list of Supreme Court nominees.

The Federalist Society is just one cog in Leo’s dark money network that has raised more than $580 millionThese funds have been financed secretly by wealthy donors through a dizzying array if nonprofits and passthrough funds.

The Judicial Crisis Network, another major group in Leo’s network, has donated heavily to organizations like the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Republican Attorneys General Association, which focus on securing control of state seats of power to help them solidify their regressive agenda. These groups have been preparing to a post-9/11 world.RoeUnited States targets two types of officials who are central to efforts to ban abortions in states: state judges and attorney generals.

State Courts Are Flooded by Anti-Choice Dark Cash

Though often overlooked, state courts will play a decisive role in the scope of Americans’ reproductive rights if Roeis overturned. A State Supreme Court, for example, may rule that a state’s constitution protects abortion rights for its residents, as the courts in Kansas, Montana and five other statesYou have done.

Because the judiciary has been ruling in their favor, special interests and politicians who serve them have sought more control over it over the past decade. Politicians in 35 states introduced more than 150 bills that would have “politicized or undermined the independence of state courts,” according to analysis by the Brennan Center.

Republican legislatures have used a lot of tactics to inject partisanship into judicial election selection by eliminating nonpartisan judiciary nominating committees. Another strategy was to add party affiliations to candidates in judicial election. This is where even a million dollar in ads by a group of special interests can vastly overshadow the spending of the candidates.

The Republican State Leadership Committee is at the heart of the effort to control state court by filling them with ideological partisans instead of experienced judges who are known for their fairness and impartiality.

The Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) is a national “527” electoral group that calls itself the “largest organization of Republican state leaders in the country.” RSLC, which has become one of the largest outside spenders influencing key state court elections, launched its so-called “Judicial Fairness Initiative” (JFI) in 2014 to help GOP-aligned state judicial candidates.

In 2022 32 statesElections for State Supreme Court seats are underway with 87 out of 344 total seats available for election. RSLC-JFI held elections for State Supreme Court seats in February. announcedIt plans to break previous spending records and will spend several million less on court races. Recent report from the Brennan Center pegged RSLC’s court spending between 2019 and 2020 at $5.2 million.

RSLC’s major funders include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the tobacco industry, and some of the largest corporations in the world, like oil baron Charles Koch’s Koch Industries.

Another of RSLC’s top donors is far right lawyer Leo’s Concord Fund (the formal legal name of Judicial Crisis Network), which has made big cash transfers to the group — more than $6 million from 2012 to 2020 — and was its biggest funder in 2018.

Although it may not seem like a lot, the impact of funding is significant because of how it is used. We’ve tracked RSLC’s playbookFor years: to move a minimum of a million dollars to JFI to pay for last-minute ads in political campaigns. This is just after the state’s primary fundraising disclosure deadlines. Those cash bombs spent in the week before the general election — which the judicial candidates they target do not have the time or cannot raise the funds to effectively counter — have won seats for RSLC’s right-wing picks for the bench.

RSLC already run adsNorth Carolina’s highest court is at stake this year. North Carolina is one southern state that doesn’t have any restrictions on accessing abortion.

Because they view independent courts as a roadblock to their agenda of outlawing abortion, the anti-choice right appears to have embraced this effort to capture state courthouses.

In Montana, Republican Attorney General Austin Knudsen has worked with the state GOP to smear the state court’s reputation over rulings they dislike, including on abortion. Recent decisions by the state courts blocked their effortTo impose the election by district of judges instead of statewide, which would have been a judicial geomander to give right-wing areas disproportionate representation.

AG Knudsen has even calledfor the court’s landmark to be overturned Armstrong v. State ruling dating from 1999, which ensures Montana’s right to abortion. Knudsen joined the Montana governor in an unprecedented move. Greg Gianforte (Senator Steve Daines) and the state GOP have now joined James Brown in the Supreme Court race for Ingrid Gustafson’s seat. Brown previously representedA dark money group that violated many anti-corruption laws in Montana.

Jeff Laszloffy, the president of the Montana Family Foundation — a state-level affiliate of the anti-LGBTQ Christian dark money organization Family Policy Alliance — called for the state court to be replacedIn order to undo Armstrong after Montana’s March for Life in January 2022. “We [marched] over to the court … to put the court on notice: We understand that Dobbs could go our way.… We will use decisions that are rendered by judges across the state … in our efforts to get pro-life judges elected in the next election cycle,” Laszloffy said.

Kansas, another state in which the State Supreme Court has protected the right for abortion, has seen the right-wing attempt to undermine judicial independence by changing the selection process. Kansas’s selection system is widely considered effective at insulating the court from political meddling or public backlash over rulings.

Two state constitutional amendments, almost placed on the ballot by the right-wing dominated state legislature this year, would have replaced merit-based systems, opening the floodgates of outside spending like cash bombs from RSLC. Kansas Family Voice, a Christian Right dark money group, is opposed to abortion and LGBTQ+ Rights. backed the measures.

Following failed efforts to remove sitting justices through anti-retention campaigns earlier this decade, the Kansas GOP and anti-choice groups have pivoted to an even more extreme strategy: circumventing the court’s authority altogether by backing a ballot measure that would overturn its 2019 ruling protecting the right to abortion. Right-wing religious groups have launched a “Value Them Both” PR campaign to support the ballot measure ahead of voting in August. It had raised over $400,000 over $1.2 millionAs of February 2022, the vast majority of these funds had come from large Kansas churches.

The Brennan Center documented 65 bills in 28 states last year that “would have either enabled the override of court decisions or prohibited state officials, including judges, from enforcing particular laws or court decisions, especially those related to abortion or guns.” This year is slated to see the highest number of statewide initiatives on abortionSince 1986.

State Attorney Generals Race for a Renewed Ugency

The right-leaning dark money groups are also trying to influence the selections of high-ranking law enforcement officers in key states. In a post-RoeNation, state attorneys general would have wide latitude over how state abortion laws are interpreted and enforced.

For example: Wisconsin’s Democratic AG Josh Kaul has vowed not to enforce his state’s archaic 1849 law banning nearly all abortions, and Michigan’s AG Dana Nessel has said the same of her own state’s ban, which was adopted in 1931.

State attorney general races have attracted significant corporate money and dark money, much of it through the Republican Attorneys General Association. This year, the Republican Attorneys General Association plans to spendNearly $700,000.00 in a last-minute advertisement blitz to unseat AG Kaul. In 2018, the Republican Attorneys General Association spent close to $3 million against him. (It also launched an attack ad against AG Nessel during her 2018 campaign.)

The Republican Attorneys General Association — a pay-to-play group created more than two decades ago out of RSLC — essentially sells access to Republican state attorneys general. Its 527 status means it can take in unlimited amounts from corporations, dark-money groups, and individuals. This money is then used to help Republican candidates to be elected to the office of AG. The Republican Attorneys General Association’s corporate donors often have major financial interests in cases brought and defended by the same AGs whose political ambitions they are funding.

Since it became legally distinct from RSLC in 2014, the Republican Attorneys General Association’s largest contributor has been far right lawyer Leo’s Concord Fund/Judicial Crisis Network, itself a darkly funded operation that passes through millions from its secret donors. It has receivedMore than $14 million was raised by the group, which also includes $1 millionOnly the first quarter 2022

The so-called “Rule of Law Defense Fund,” the 501(c)(4) arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, has also received significant funding from Judicial Crisis Network. As first reported by The Guardian, the fund was instrumental in organizing the rallies that culminated with the January 6 insurrection. Documented. In a robocall on January 5, it told listeners, “At 1:00 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal.”

Currently, Democrats occupy24 of 51 attorney-general seats are up for election, and 30 seats are up for election in 2022. Given Leo’s role in raising funds for the Republican Attorneys General Association, restricting abortion — as well as limiting regulation of corporations — will doubtless be a key part of their agenda to capture these offices in the upcoming elections.

Dark money groups have been trying to take over state courts and attorneys general posts for years. RoeThis is only the beginning of its pernicious payoff. Alito’s leaked opinion indicates a hostility to other core rights and freedoms, including same-sex marriage, mixed-race marriage, and even access to contraception.

Fundamental rights are fundamental in that they are essential and must be protected so that they cannot be overthrown by a majority or reactionary effort. But the right-wing judges in control of the Supreme Court and the dark money groups that helped install them appear determined to destroy Americans’ rights to their most intimate decisions, and more.

The silver lining is the anticipated fall of Roe Alito has revealed the power of often-overlooked state offices and lifted the veil on anti-democratic forces attempting to reshape our judiciary. Alito’s gambit to “let the states decide” may prove to be the spark for a stronger movement against the corruption of dark money and for a more democratic political system that will protect against assaults on reproductive justice and fundamental freedoms in all 50 states.

Lisa Graves, executive director of True North Research, contributed to this article.